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What ‘Aha!’ really sounds like; the back story of detecting gravitational waves

Cambridge, MA., 03/17/14, A team at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics announced that they have found the first direct evidence of cosmic inflation. Top to bottom, Marc Kamionkowski, Johns Hopkins University, Clem Pryke, University of Minnisota, Jamie Bock, Caltech/JPL, Chao-Lin Kuo, Stanford/SLAC, John Kovac, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. all cq. address the media with presentation. Section: Metro Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff (The Boston Globe)
A team at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics announced Monday they found the first direct evidence of cosmic inflation. Top to bottom, Marc Kamionkowski of Johns Hopkins University, Clem Pryke of University of Minnisota, Jamie Bock of Caltech/JPL, Chao-Lin Kuo of Stanford/SLAC, John Kovac of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

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When a team of scientists gathered last Monday to announce they had detected primordial ripples in space-time that emanated from the Big Bang, what got lost in the news was the process. How did this team, led by four scientists scattered across the United States and using a small telescope at the South Pole, arrive at this stunning conclusion?

It isn’t like the universe just lays down its hand and shows its cards because the right kind of telescope has been built; a delicate measurement like this one requires persistence and skepticism and months of work to make sure it isn’t an artifact.

At the press conference, I asked the panel when and how they each grasped that they might actually be detecting the signal they were seeking. Here’s what “Aha!” really sounds like.

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